Tropical cyclone kills at least 113 in Indonesia, East Timor

By Yos Seran and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

MALAKA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and East Timor have killed 113 people, with many still unaccounted for and thousands displaced, officials said on Monday.

At least 86 deaths were reported on several islands in Indonesia’s West and East Nusa Tenggara provinces, while 71 others were missing, after the cyclone brought flash floods, landslides and strong winds amid heavy rain over the weekend, disaster agency BNPB said.

In East Timor, which shares the Timor island with Indonesia, at least 27 people were killed by landslides, flash floods and a falling tree, while 7,000 were displaced, its government said.

On Lembata island, authorities feared bodies had been washed away.

“We are using rubber boats to find bodies at sea. In several villages, flash floods hit while people were sleeping,” Thomas Ola Langoday, deputy head of Lembata district government, told Reuters by phone.

About 30,000 people have been impacted by floods in Indonesia, some already taking shelter in evacuation centers, but rescue operations have been made difficult after five bridges collapsed and falling trees blocked some roads, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said.

A continuing storm had also halted evacuations in some places, local authorities said.

Hundreds of houses and other facilities such as a solar power plant were damaged, BNPB said. Ships and motor boats sank as the cyclone set off waves as high as 6 meters.

Powerful currents continued to flow through villages in the Malaka district on Timor island on Monday, even though the rain had stopped.

Some residents there hauled themselves to their roofs to escape flood water rising to 3-4 meters.

“We had to dismantle the zinc roof. We went out through the back door and pulled ourselves out with a rope,” Agustina Luruk, 36, told Reuters as she and her three daughters waited to be evacuated by the side of a muddy road.

President Joko Widodo offered his condolences and ordered speedy disaster relief efforts.

The Seroja cyclone hit the Savu sea southwest of Timor island in the early hours of Monday, Indonesia’s weather agency said.

Within 24 hours, the cyclone’s intensity could strengthen, bringing yet more rain, waves and winds, although it was moving away from Indonesia, the agency said.

Dwikorita Karnawati, the agency’s head, said that the cyclone would be weakening in the next two days.

(Reporting by Yos Seran in Malaka, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty, Giles Elgood, Kirsten Donovan)

Hawaii declares emergency due to floods, orders evacuations

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Hawaii Governor David Ige declared an emergency in the U.S. state after heavy rains brought floods, landslides and fear of dam failures, and authorities ordered the evacuation of several thousand people from communities threatened by rising waters.

The move came after a dam overflowed on the island of Maui, forcing evacuations and destroying homes, with the dam’s “unsatisfactory” condition leading to it being scheduled for removal this year, the land department has said.

“The emergency proclamation makes state general funds available that can be used quickly and efficiently to help those impacted by the severe weather,” Ige said on Tuesday.

Poor weather was expected to run until Friday, he added, and flood advisories stayed in place for a second day

The emergency declaration covers the counties of Hawai’i, Maui, Kalawao, O’ahu and Kaua’i, the governor’s office said in a statement, while the disaster relief period runs until May 8.

The Honolulu Department of Emergency Management directed people to leave Haleiwa, a community of a few thousand people to the north of state capital Honolulu.

Hawaii News Now reported that two people were swept away in raging waters on Tuesday. One of them, a 27-year-old man, was rescued by authorities. A search for the other would resume on Wednesday, according to the report.

There were no other immediate reports of injuries or casualties.

In Maui, heavy rains damaged roads, leaving them impassable, with one bridge completely washed out and another displaced, the governor’s office said.

State emergency management officials had said the rains led to the cresting of the Kaupakalua dam in the northern region of Haiku, prompting authorities to open evacuation shelters and urge people not to return home.

Six homes were heavily damaged or destroyed, said Maui mayor Michael Victorino.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Clarence Fernandez & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Indonesia quake kills at least 42, injures hundreds

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake killed at least 42 people and injured hundreds on Indonesia’s island of Sulawesi on Friday, trapping several under rubble and unleashing dozens of aftershocks as authorities warned of more quakes that could trigger a tsunami.

Thousands of frightened residents fled their homes for higher ground when the magnitude 6.2-quake struck 6 km (4 miles) northeast of the town of Majene, at a depth of just 10 km, shortly before 1.30 a.m.

The quake and aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor, where authorities told Reuters several people have been trapped under the rubble.

“Praise be to God, for now OK, but we just felt another aftershock,” said Sukri Efendy, a 26-year-old resident of the area.

As many as 42 people have been killed, mostly in Mamuju and the rest in the neighboring district of Majene, the country’s national disaster mitigation agency said in a situation report on Friday evening. More than 820 people were injured, it said.

The heightened seismic activity set off three landslides, severed electricity supplies, and damaged bridges linking to regional hubs, such as the city of Makassar. Heavy rain was also worsening conditions for those seeking shelter.

No tsunami warning was issued but the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dwikorita Karnawati, told a news conference that aftershocks could follow, with a possibility that another powerful quake could trigger a tsunami.

There had been at least 26 aftershocks, she said, with Friday’s quake preceded by a quake of 5.9 magnitude the previous day.

Mamuju resident Muhammad Ansari Iriyanto, 31, told Reuters that everyone panicked and sought refuge in the nearby hills and mountains.

“Mamuju is now empty, everyone went to the mountains,” he said. “Lots of buildings collapsed and people are afraid of a tsunami.”

Another resident Syahir Muhammad said: “It’s raining and we need help.”

Videos shared on social media showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a young girl trapped under rubble as people tried to shift debris with their hands. Rescue workers used cutting and lifting equipment to free survivors and find the dead.

President Joko Widodo offered condolences to the victims, urging people to stay calm and authorities to step up search efforts.

Emerging workers are now trying to restore telecoms and bridge links and ensure the delivery of tents, food and medical supplies, said West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin.

About 15,000 people have fled their homes since the quake, the disaster agency has said, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to complicate the distribution of aid.

“It is certainly one of the most challenging, this (disaster) was one of our fears and now we are putting all of that planning and protocols into place,” said Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Indonesia.

Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

A 9.1-magnitude quake off the north of Sumatra island triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 that lashed coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other nations, killing more than 230,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Additional reporting by Yishu Ng in Singapore added as Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Honduras hurricanes push thousands into homelessness

By Jose Cabezas

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Reuters) – Willian Castro and his family huddled on the roof of a banana packing plant for three days as Hurricane Eta raged last month, seeking to escape the torrential rains and floods that swept through his home and thousands of others.

His city of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras was one of the areas worst hit by Eta and Hurricane Iota, which struck just two weeks later, deepening the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Central America.

Castro, 34, worked as a barber from his home, which was destroyed in the storms. He is now considering following thousands of Hondurans before him who saw emigration north as a way out of poverty.

“We will have to start over,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. If not, I’ll have to think about what many have done in the past, go to the United States.”

For now, Castro is living in a friend’s house near San Pedro Sula. Private organizations have given his family food, and neighbors who receive remittances from relatives in the United States have also helped.

“The government has not given us anything,” Castro said.

Julissa Mercado, a spokeswoman for government disaster agency COPECO, said the area around San Pedro Sula received food aid, but that it was inevitable that some people would say they had not received assistance.

Nationwide, some 4.5 million people – half the Honduran population – have been impacted by the hurricanes and their aftermath, including landslides and rain that submerged entire communities, the government said. More than 85,200 homes were damaged and 6,100 destroyed.

In Castro’s old neighborhood, the accumulated rainwater is a meter high in some areas, and downed power poles and trees, furniture and appliances still clutter the streets.

Some 95,000 people in San Pedro Sula have taken refuge in shelters. Thousands of others sleep each night in flimsy sheds made of wood and plastic sheets, on sidewalks or under bridges.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has called for help from other nations. “It’s the worst disaster that we have experienced in the history of the Republic of Honduras,” he said on Thursday at an event recognizing first responders.

Even before the twin storms, which also killed 100 people, Honduras was expecting an economic contraction of 10.5% this year due to the pandemic.

“After losing their homes, assets and even their jobs, people who were already poor are now even worse off,” said Nelson Garcia, director of the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), a human rights organization.

(Reporting by Jose Cabezas and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Adriana Barrera, Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and John Stonestreet)

Storms that slammed Central America in 2020 just a preview

By Sarah Marsh and Sofia Menchu

HAVANA/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Villagers in Guatemala’s Mayan hillside hamlet Sanimtaca had been about to harvest their cardamom crops that take three years to grow when waves of floodwater triggered by two tropical storms last month washed them away.

Now they have no way to support themselves or to build back the 25 homes – a third of the village – also destroyed in the flash floods that have yet to subside, said Raul Quib, a volunteer from a neighboring community.

“No one had ever seen flooding like it around here,” the 35-year-old who has been collecting food and clothing donations told Reuters. “The school is flooded, the cemetery is flooded.”

This week brought an official close to the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded, with 30 named storms including 13 hurricanes.

And thanks to climate change, experts warn, Central America will have to brace for stronger storm impacts in the future – as well as higher economic damages, unless they prepare.

The region, which already has some of the highest poverty rates in Latin America, was particularly hard hit by hurricanes this year.

Two of the year’s strongest storms, Eta and Iota, ravaged swathes of Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize in unusually quick succession in November.

Altogether, more than 200 people were killed and more than half a million displaced. Hundreds of thousands are now unsure where their next meals will come from.

In Sanimtaca, villagers were able to flee to higher ground in time to escape the flooding. But elsewhere in the mountainous central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, storm-triggered landslides buried dozens of houses with people inside.

Hurricane Eta alone caused up to $5.5 billion in damage in Central America, the Inter-American Development Bank said, while the impact of Iota has not yet been determined.

So far, only Nicaragua has provided official estimates of damage of both storms, putting it at more than $740 million, around 6.2% of gross domestic product.

“If we don’t manage to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we can expect an intensification of such natural disasters in the region with increasing costs,” said Luis Miguel Galindo, climate change expert and economics professor at Mexico’s UNAM university.

Currently, the world is on track to surpass 2°C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If temperatures rise 2.5 °C by mid-century, the main costs of climate change could tally 1.5% to 5% of the annual GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a 2017 United Nations report that Galindo co-authored. It put the cost of adapting below 0.5% of GDP.

SLOWER STORMS, LONGER SEASON

Climate change overall is changing how hurricanes behave, scientists say, by warming up the ocean water through which they draw their power. Winds are blowing stronger. Storms are dropping heavier rains.

“We have more energy embedded in the oceans, and 90% from climate change,” said Belizean meteorologist Carlos Fuller, the lead climate change negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.

And hurricanes are sometimes moving more slowly, stalling for longer on land or traveling farther before breaking up, recent research has shown.

That can mean even more rainfall, wind and destruction for communities in a storm’s path. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey turned Houston’s highways into tidal rivers after stalling for four days near or over the Texas coast. Scientists say Eta and Sally behaved this way, too, hence the unusual flooding in Sanimtaca.

“The evidence is building that there is a human fingerprint on this behavior,” said Jim Kossin, climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In a study published in June 2018 in the journal Nature, Kossin found that hurricane speeds had decreased worldwide by about 10% between 1949 and 2016.

This year’s storm count included six major hurricanes, twice the long-term average, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, who researches hurricanes at Colorado State University.

The year also saw nine storms that rapidly intensified, he said. Iota for example spun from a 70 mile-per-hour (113 km-per-hour) tropical storm to a 160-mph (257-kph) Category 5 hurricane in 36 hours. The only other years that saw so many such storms were 1995 and 2010.

That can be “a problem from the warning, preparation perspective,” Klotzbach said. “It is hard to prepare if it’s a tropical storm, and then a day later a Category 4 hurricane.”

More storms could also hit outside of the traditional hurricane season going forwards as ocean waters get warmer sooner, said Susan Lozier, an oceanographer and dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Sciences. This year, a record-tying two tropical storms were swirling over the Atlantic in May, before the season’s June 1 start.

But it is still unclear if climate change is influencing the number of storms per year and played a role in the record 30 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean this season given natural variability. The number of hurricanes and major hurricanes for the Northern Hemisphere was near average due to a quieter Pacific.

BOLSTERING RESILIENCE

Communities devastated by a hurricane need to find ways to reduce the risk of damages should another hurricane hit, said World Bank regional sustainable development expert Anna Wellenstein.

Natural hazards “become disasters when we build in the wrong place or in the wrong way,” she said. “Countries need more than a few years to really increase their resilience. This is an effort of decades.”

Moving populations away from coastlines vulnerable to floods and storm surges or hillsides that see landslides could help prevent deaths, some experts suggest. Storm predictions and warning systems could be improved. And vulnerable crops can be swapped out for hardier species.

“Rice can survive (rain) water because it grows in water,” said Fuller, the meteorologist in Belize. “So maybe we need to shift to that sort of grain instead of maize for example which will fall.”

A dollar invested in more resilient infrastructure brings four dollars in economic benefits, said Wellenstein.

But many Central American and Caribbean countries, already confronted with poverty and debt, have struggled to prioritize this among so many other pressing needs.

“They don’t have the resources,” said Galindo. “And the pandemic is further reducing revenue and increasing expenses.”

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said last month Central America had been the worst affected region in the world by climate change and it would need help from them to stave off mass migration.

Quib, who volunteered to help Sanimtaca, said he expected most of the youth of the village to emigrate to Canada where they could lead a better life.

“If they were already doing it before this happened, they will do so even more now,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Additional Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

Death toll from Iota slowly rises in Central America amid ongoing rescue efforts

By Gustavo Palencia and Ismael Lopez

TEGUCIGALPA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The death toll from storm Iota is slowly rising in Central America as authorities on Thursday said they’d recovered more bodies buried in landslides triggered by catastrophic flooding that swept through the already waterlogged region earlier this week.

Nearly 40 people were killed across Central America and Colombia, and the toll is expected to rise as rescue workers reach isolated communities. Most of the deaths have occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras.

The strongest storm on record to hit Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane. It inundated low-lying areas still reeling from the impact two weeks ago of Eta, another major hurricane that killed dozens of people in the region.

On Thursday morning, Honduran authorities raised the death toll to 14 after confirming that eight members of two families, including four children, were killed when a landslide buried their homes in a village in a mountainous region populated by indigenous Lencas near the border with El Salvador.

In Nicaragua, where a total of 18 people have been confirmed dead, rescue efforts continue after a landslide in the north of the country killed eight people, with more missing.

While Iota largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities struggled to cope with the fallout from days of heavy rain.

Numerous villages from northern Colombia to southern Mexico saw record rainfall swell rivers and trigger mudslides. Cities like the Honduran industrial hub of San Pedro Sula were also hit hard, with the city’s airport completely flooded and jetways looking more like docks, video posted on social media showed.

Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans have been forced to flee to shelters.

Experts say the destruction caused by the unprecedented 2020 hurricane season in Central America could spur more migration out of the region, which is coping with insecurity and an economic crisis triggered by coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns imposed earlier this year.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ismael Lopez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Wilmer Lopez in Puerto Cabezas, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Indonesia seeds clouds to keep them away from flooded capital

By Bernadette Christina and Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s air force seeded clouds with salt on Friday to try to stop rainfall reaching the slowing sinking capital after deadly flash floods and landslides triggered by some of the heaviest rain ever recorded.

The death toll in Jakarta and surrounding areas rose to 43 as of Friday, the disaster mitigation agency said, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Indonesia’s technology agency BPPT and the air force carried out three rounds of cloud seeding on Friday, with more expected when needed, a BPPT official said.

The seeding, shooting salt flares in an attempt to trigger rainfall, is aimed at breaking up clouds before they reach Jakarta.

“We will do cloud seeding every day as needed,” BPPT chief Hammam Riza told reporters.

Cloud seeding is often used in Indonesia to put out forest fires during the dry season.

The floods followed torrential rains on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day that inundated swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns, home to about 30 million people.

The deluge at the start of 2020 was “one of the most extreme rainfall” events since records began in 1866, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Friday.

The agency said climate change had increased the risk of extreme weather and warned that heavy rainfall could last until mid-February, with Jan 11-15 an expected peak.

Television footage showed flood waters inundating parts of Southeast Asia’s largest city and mud-covered cars, some piled on top of each other.

President Joko Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the disaster, including the construction of a canal that has been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Widodo last year announced he would move Indonesia’s capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo island to reduce the burden on overpopulated Jakarta.

More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

Jakarta is sinking by several cm a year in northern parts, an official said in October, due to extraction of groundwater over the years causing layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; editing by Nick Macfie)

Flood death toll rises to 26 in Jakarta, tens of thousands evacuated

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on Thursday after flash floods and landslides killed up to 26 people amid some of the heaviest rain in more than 20 years, with more deluges forecast, authorities said.

The flooding, among the deadliest in years, caused chaos in parts of Southeast Asia’s biggest city with train lines blocked and power outages in some areas. Swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns were inundated after heavy rain fell on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Social affairs ministry data showed 26 people were killed in the flooding, up from the earlier toll of 21.

As of Thursday morning, over 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said, although later in the day he told news channel Metro TV the number of evacuees were down to around 35,000 people.

Rainfall at an airport in East Jakarta measured at 377 millimeters (15 inches) early on Jan. 1, the highest daily reading during major floods since at least 1996, according to the Meteorology, Clilmatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Umar Dani, 52, and his family were evacuated overnight from his home in East Jakarta on a rubber boat after water levels rose up to his neck.

“It has not flooded for so long here. We didn’t have the chance to bring anything,” he said.

“I have to live on the streets now.”

President Joko Widodo told reporters evacuation and safety measures should be prioritized and called for more coordination between city administrations and the central government.

On his Twitter page, Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding. He said some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

“EXTREME WEATHER” EXPECTED

Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said authorities deployed hundreds of pumps to suck water from residential areas across the capital, which had allowed some people to return home.

“They want to return home immediately and start cleaning up their houses as soon as they are able to enter their houses as water recedes,” Baswedan told reporters during a visit to a densely populated area in East Jakarta affected by the flood.

Residents waddled through murky water to see the governor while workers pumped water out of the area into a nearby river.

The mitigation agency said on its Twitter page that water levels have come down in a few affected areas, showing pictures of streets covered by mud and littered with debris.

Authorities however warned people to remain vigilant as “extreme weather” is expected to continue until Jan. 7.

Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), told reporters separately that heavy rainfall may continue until mid February.

Television footage on Thursday showed rescuers in the nearby city of Tangerang evacuating residents, guiding them across a strong current by holding on to a rope.

Jakarta and its surroundings are home to more than 30 million people. More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

The government announced last year that it is relocating the capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo, though the planning ministry pledged that the government will invest $40 billion in modernizing Jakarta.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Kim Coghill, William Maclean)

Death toll from Kenya landslides rises to 56 as heavy rains lash country’s north west

People walk in the mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

 

MOMBASA (Reuters) – The death toll from landslides in northwestern Kenya triggered on Saturday by unusually heavy rains has risen to at least 56 people, a local official said.

The downpour began on Friday in West Pokot County, which borders Uganda, and worsened overnight, causing flooding and mudslides that swept away four bridges and left villages inaccessible by road.

Samuel Poghisio, a senator from the county, told Reuters by phone on Sunday that 56 people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were missing. By Saturday afternoon, local officials had reported 36 dead.

“Rescue operations are frustrated by more rain and fog,” Poghisio wrote in a text message, adding that police helicopters were struggling to reach the flooded areas.

Kenya’s president on Saturday deployed rescue personnel from agencies including the army and the police to try and prevent the “further loss of lives”.

Houses are seen covered by mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

Researchers have warned that warming oceans are causing unpredictable weather patterns in East Africa.

Heavy rains and floods have killed more than 50 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the region since October, aid groups said earlier this month.

Kenya is experiencing a heavier than usual rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in early November.

(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Disaster hacks: South American cities harness tech and nature to tackle flooding

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hit with ever-more-frequent torrential rain that triggers worsening flooding and mudslides most years, Rio de Janeiro is looking to an unusual gathering for answers: a hackathon.

Starting Saturday, teams of university students, tech start-up leaders, software developers and computer engineers will try to come up with innovative ways to help the seaside Brazilian city limit its losses as climate change brings wilder weather.

Tech experts at the city hall-led event hope to, for instance, come up with new ways to leverage data from GPS systems already used in the city’s buses to allow emergency services to better understand and monitor floods in real time.

“We know we have problems of floods and heavy rains, and we see an opportunity to use GPS to know where the flooding and landslide incidents are,” said Simone Silva, a mobility advisor at city hall and one of the organizers.

Right now, “at the very local level, we don’t know exactly what happens,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RISING URBANIZATION

Around Latin America, tens of millions of people are at risk from worsening flooding linked to climate change, many of them living in urban slums often built along rivers or on mountain slopes prone to landslides.

About 80% of Latin America’s people live in the region’s urban areas, according to the United Nations.

But across the region, cities are working to cut the risks, harnessing technology, better data and insights from affected communities to come up with new ways to keep people safe.

Flooding is clearly seen as one of the most severe threats. Of 530 cities worldwide that reported their climate hazards in 2018 to CDP, a London-based international environmental non-profit, 71% said floods were their top worry.

Extreme heat came next, at 61%, followed by drought at 36%, according to the study, published last month.

But over half of cities have not carried out risk assessments to map which areas, residents and businesses are under threat from extreme weather, the study found.

“We have seen that cities that take vulnerability assessments, they take six times as many actions to adapt as cities that haven’t done them,” said Kyra Appleby, who heads the CDP’s cities, states and regions team.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology that allows data about hazards and climate risks to be overlayed with existing maps of cities has made it easier for authorities to do risk assessments, she added.

That and other technologies are among the measures being used in a range of cities around Latin America to deal with worsening economic and human losses from floods.

In recent decades, Rio de Janeiro, for instance, has put in place early warning systems to help evacuate people ahead of threats, mapped of floodplain areas, built shelters and conducted emergency drills in slum areas, Appleby said.

The city also has installed cameras to monitor street flooding and set up social media alert systems.

Other cities are introducing digital sensors to try to cut risks. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is developing a network of sensors to monitor rainfall and feed back data in real time to the city’s central control centre.

Ensuring climate change adaptation measures are included in all urban planning is crucial, Appleby said, noting that the city of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, is one of those leading the way.

“It’s in the process of creating a new masterplan for the city and they are integrating all their adaption measures into their masterplan. That is really ahead of the curve,” she said.

To be effective, climate adaption plans must include the input of local communities, according to Anjali Mahendra, head of research at the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

“Latin American cities are particularly good with involving communities,” she said.

That’s largely because early urbanization in the region means cities have had longer experience working with informal settlements and other disadvantaged communities, she said.

African and South Asian cities, facing rapid urbanization are “starting to learn from some Latin American cities,” Mahendra said.

Colombia’s second city of Medellin and Ecuador’s capital Quito – which has a climate change panel that includes youth, women and indigenous groups – in particular have worked hard to include local communities in decisions about urban planning and climate risks, said Mahendra.

USING NATURE

To tackle growing flood threats, more investment also is needed in “nature-based solutions” – such as expanding green areas to absorb floodwaters, said Pedro Ribeiro, head of the Urban Flooding Network at C40, a group of cities pushing climate action.

Creating green buffer areas to stem urban sprawl and protecting and restoring degraded ecosystems around cities, including forests, watersheds, grasslands and wetlands, can help slow the movement of water and avoid flooding, he said.

“It’s easier to recover ecosystems that were in the city before building .. and the results are better” than trying to establish wholly new anti-flooding systems, Ribeiro said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by XXXX. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)